I was hoping to slip into Tokyo
unnoticed like we did so many times before when filming The Cove.
I felt like I was stepping back,
perhaps unnecessarily, into harm's way by attending the premiere of
the movie at the Tokyo International Film Festival. What made me
nervous were the outstanding arrest warrants-- trespassing,
conspiracy to disrupt commerce, photographing police without their
permission were just a few of the charges.
I was traveling with my New York
attorney Wilder Knight, who was behind me on the plane in case I got
into trouble. It would be comforting to know that somebody would know if I
were detained. Authorities can hold you for 23 days without charges
in Japan, and as I had read from State Department warnings, they have
over a 99% conviction rate. The U.S. embassy was very clear that
traveling in Japan with charges pending was foolish. You have no
rights in Japan, and they are expert at forcing a confession out of
suspects through what amounts to torture. “Who is the U.S. to
complain now that we have Gitmo as our legacy?
” I thought.
But it was important to me to be there
to introduce the film, and stand up for my clients: the dolphins and
porpoises and whales that have very few human voices to defend them.
I realized the odds were against us. Making a film and trying to get
it shown in Japan were seemingly insurmountable, but it seemed every
time we encountered a difficulty, a barrier was broken down. $35,000
to dub the film, no money in the bank, borrowing off my son's college
fund, living on fumes. Then a donor steps up out of nowhere to help
out. More bills, more debt. Should I tell my wife that we should move
into a smaller house and reduce the mortgage? Then an anonymous check
comes in the mail with a lot of zeros, and the short term film debt
is wiped out like an angel sprinkled fairy dust on our dreams.
But this film was never about money, it
was about trying to live up to the dream of saving the oceans and the
most magnificent creatures that live in it. And although improbable,
it seemed to be working. Dolphins were being released at the cove,
but some pilot whale pods and Rissos (large dolphins) were still
being slaughtered because the locals regard them as whales-- so there
is still a lot of work to be done. I felt going into Tokyo was the
quickest way to draw attention to the problem, and getting arrested -
while being no fun - would be the equivalent of walking into the
The little film that others said had no
chance of ever being shown theatrically in that country was now a
sensation, eclipsing the big Hollywood films entered at the festival.
The show sold out within hours of its announcement, even though it
had been relegated to an early morning slot on a weekday. The nervous
planners thought it was politically unwise to open other screenings
like most festivals do to compensate for overwhelming demand.
The media in Japan, once reluctant to
cover any stories about dolphin and whale hunting, had swarmed over
Ric O'Barry and his crew on his latest voyage into Taiji. He told me
going in that he was scared he would get arrested. He wasn't, to his
relief, but he did say the police were looking for me.
Watching Ric has given me a lot of
courage. He's definitely committed to the extent that he would
sacrifice everything for the cause. The stress takes its toll on
family and your life though. I had been on the road for six weeks in
Europe and the Middle East promoting the film. Charles Hambleton,
director of covert operations and freediver Kirk Krack offered to
come and stand by my side together, and Fisher Stevens too, but then
I thought that would be too easy for the police to play us off each
other. It's a common strategy and I didn't want to play into that
game and risk more crew and potential lawyer's fees. Wilder was
coming over gratis. My wife Viki had been traveling with me but I
didn't want to drag her into the conflict. Besides, I needed somebody
back home, on the ground working the phones to bail me out if I
should get apprehended.
I was in the U.S. for a day, didn't go
home, and my luggage didn't arrive from Europe so I bought new
clothes knowing that in Japanese prison they let you keep your street
clothes with you. Getting off the plane, even before going through
immigration, the television and news crews were waiting for me. My
heart raced. Did they know something I didn't know? How did they know
I was coming?
Too late to do anything now. I stopped and talked
on the plane steps to Mike Yamashita, a fellow National Geographic
photographer who was in transit to Hong Kong. He had heard about
the film and my new career. He took a few snaps of
me in case I'm arrested and wishes me good luck.
In short, I wasn't detained. The
immigration officer asked a lot of the usual questions: What do you
do for a living? "I make films." What kind of films?
"Documentaries." About what? "Wildlife, I film
wildlife." What are you doing in Tokyo? "I'm showing our
film at the Tokyo Film Festival." How long are you going to be
here? "Two days or maybe two years
," I thought. "I'm
leaving Thursday," I said. He stamped my passport and more news
crew watched us haul our bags onto the bus.
Today was surreal. Teams of news crews
were turned away and banned from the film festival property. The
festival planners roped off the green carpet so I had to take an
escalator up to the in the screening. It was obvious they didn't want
any more press on The Cove screenings. There wasn't a single poster
up of The Cove around the grounds or the theater. Just a piece of
paper taped onto the theater doors saying, "The Cove".
I was shuffled away from the news crews
and taken through a series of hallways and warned not to walk around
because of protesters. I didn't see any protesters. I had asked to
introduce the film, and looking around the audience I saw many of the
main characters in our film. Is that Private Space? Look, that's the
Taiji Mayor, and Moronuki. Isn't that the some of the fisherman but
in suits? There's Joji's predecessor from the Japanese International
Whaling Commission Komatsu himself, who is famous for his quote,
"Whales are the cockroaches of the oceans."
screening of The Cove at the Japanese Film Festival I definitely
wouldn't be preaching to the choir. I was deep into enemy territory
but I was armed with the most powerful weapon in the world, a film.
The Mayor of Taiji couldn't get tickets
because the screening was sold out, so I had offered him OPS's ticket
allotment so his city council could attend as well. In the end it was
deemed too expensive for them all to come, so I had faxed him an
invitation that OPS would screen The Cove for the whole town of Taiji
for an Ocean Film Festival. It was Lincoln O'Barry's idea, and he
said he could arrange it and bring in some other films as well.
Perhaps End of the Line and Oceans and make it the Taiji Ocean Film
Festival, Ric proposed. I even officially offered to donate 100% of
OPS profits from the film in Japan if they would agree to stop
capturing dolphins for meat or for the entertainment industry.
It's a small price to pay for the
freedom of these magnificent creatures, but no official response back
from their side. But at least they will know I'm not here for the
money. There are a couple of small offers on the table now by nervous
Japanese distributors, but we're very cautious that somebody could
license the film here just to have it buried. Maybe we should go the
YouTube route. OPS's main backer is Jim Clark and his son-in-law is
Chad Hurley, the CEO of YouTube. My fear is that if you give a film
away, that may be its perceived value.
The Q&A at the screening was mostly silent from the dark forces. Really though, how can they defend what they just witnessed? Moronuki got to see even more of the killing footage that I flashed to him on my iPhone in the film, but not in context with the rest of the movie. I remember deleting those scenes as I showed them to him. The taxi to the airport was packed with the OPS crew and that day, and he would have had to act swiftly to have us arrested. "I don't want to talk about 'if' stories," he said to us.
Now there he was, a few rows from the front, smiling blankly like his worst nightmares had become real and everyone in the room had come to share them. That must be what it's like to be a politician caught on a film taking a bribe. I felt like somebody could have set him in a coffin, folded his hands over his chest, buried him and he wouldn't have resisted.
Komatsu, who wrote the definitive book on the Japanese defense of whaling had his head between his knees and was frantically rubbing his temples as if trying to poltergeist a migraine. If everybody else around him wasn't in shock, I think they would have gotten him a doctor.
The mayor of Taiji stormed out like a man in need of a restroom. He didn't come back. I don't expect he'll be following up on the offer of a Taiji Ocean Film Festival anytime soon. Lots of fishermen in nice suits with their lawyers in attendance were slinked down and shielding their faces. There were numerous threats to sue TIFF if the film was shown.
The question came up, and I said, "The dolphin hunters said they were proud of their profession, so what are they afraid of? The Taiji mayor said they only closed off The Cove because of danger of falling rocks. I watched the cove for weeks and didn't see any falling rocks. So I put in some of my own to see for sure." That got laughs from the ex-pat community and the mostly sympathetic Japanese community.
I told the audience that as much as we all feel that the film is about animal rights, the way to win the argument is through human rights. Dolphin meat is toxic, all of it. The meat violates Japanese Health laws, and I called for the new Ministries of Health under the new political party to enforce their health laws. The LDP was in power in Japan for 53 years. Since WWII. A corrupt oligarchy whose four lane highways to nowhere are the stuff of legend. They subsidized the whaling industry with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. The new government is shutting down those large construction projects, and of course were all hoping whaling gets shut down too.
I told the audience that if Japan shut down whaling and joined the International community on this issue, their economy would soar. I said whale watching has earned far more money than whale killing has ever made, even when one compensates for the value of money then and now. All whaling and dolphin killing accounts for only 1/10th of one percent of the toothbrush market in their huge economy, but it stains their international reputation to no end.
The tradition argument falls apart when human rights are violated, and it is a human right to have food that is not classified as a poison by health laws but advertised as nutrition by the Far Seas Fisheries agency. I told them there was a factory near my home town of Boulder, Colorado that made plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs, and the workers there said that was their tradition. There was an audible gasp from the Japanese audience. Activists shut down that bomb plant, one of them being Charles Hambleton who set up the "rocks" in The Cove. He was arrested twice on the same day for his action. He was jailed, released and arrested again on the same day for his protests.
Rocky Flats is now closed because the site is toxic, because people like Charles protested. The Rocky Flats workers all asked, "What will we do if we can't make bombs for a living?" They found other jobs, just like the dolphin hunters must do rather than distribute poison for a living. The time is now for the Japanese to solve this problem. We made a movie, but now it's up to the Fishermen to stop slaughtering dolphins and poisoning its people.